Six weeks away from the beginning of the 2022-23 NHL season, we’ve begun seeing answers to the off-season questions that have lingered for months.
Nazem Kadri is a Calgary Flame, Johnny Gaudreau is a Columbus Blue Jacket, and a slew of others have inked new deals and swapped jerseys, too. Now that the dust has settled on some of the summer’s biggest moves, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek took some time in the latest episode of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast to shed some light on the process behind the chaos, and a couple other deals that could still be on the horizon.
Listen to the full episode, featuring interviews with Edmonton Oilers pivot Leon Draisaitl and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, here.
NATHAN MacKINNON SET TO CHALLENGE McDAVID AS HIGHEST-PAID PLAYER?
Fresh off a string of dominant seasons that saw Colorado Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon earn a couple Hart Trophy nominations and lift the Stanley Cup, the 26-year-old is set to be paid handsomely for his entry into the league’s elite.
The 2013 first-overall pick has emerged as one of the game’s most undeniably dynamic talents over the past few years, all while playing out a deal that paid him just $6.3 million per season — a steal for Colorado. With that deal set to expire after the 2022-23 campaign, Friedman reported the Nova Scotia native could soon see his salary double.
“Look, I think it’s going to be a big number. I think it’s a possibility — but not guarantee — that Nathan MacKinnon could end up being the highest-paid player in the league,” Friedman said during 32 Thoughts: The Podcast. “Right now that’s Connor McDavid at a $12.5 million AAV. I think it’s possible. Even if he isn’t, I think it’s going to be a big number.
“If the Avalanche do do this and it does end up being as high is it could possibly be, I don’t think people are going to argue with it. He’s that good, and he’s that important. The other thing too is, you look at it — (Cale) Makar is at $9 million, (Mikko) Rantanen is at $9.25 million, MacKinnon’s going to be a total UFA, that’s the push. You’ll hear Bill Daly talk about how they’re optimistic the cap is going to go up a little sooner than they thought, so this is a big one.”
HOW NAZEM KADRI ENDED UP IN CALGARY AS THE ISLANDERS RUMOURS SWIRLED
The Avalanche have the space to handle that hefty raise, of course, because they’ve lost 2021-22 standout Nazem Kadri, who joined the Flames on a seven-year, $49-million deal.
Kadri’s eventual landing spot has been the talk of the league for weeks, with some initially assuming he’d return to Colorado, and other rumours suggesting a deal had been done with Lou Lamoriello’s New York Islanders, before Calgary announced the news.
“There were rumours going around a few days beforehand that it was a done deal. The Flames did that confirm that eventually, that it was. But what they were really trying to do was they really wanted to keep a lid on it because they had to make the (Sean) Monahan trade,” Friedman explained of how the Kadri and Monahan deals went down. “I think they had more than one option, I think some of them potentially fell through. But they really wanted to create a situation where they weren’t getting squeezed by saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got Kadri locked in, but we still have to make the move.’ I think that was a strategy on their part. And clearly that turned out to be the case.”
As for the former Toronto Maple Leaf’s other options, it appears Calgary was the front-runner from the beginning.
“Kadri, I think he was really interested in the Avalanche, I don’t think the Avalanche were willing to do term. The Islanders, it’s so tough. … I never thought the Islanders and Kadri were done, I was specifically warned against saying anything like that, that it would be a mistake to do it at a point,” Friedman said. “The one thing I think that really helped the Flames was they were the most aggressive team.
“Calgary’s whole summer turned when (MacKenzie) Weegar and (Jonathan) Huberdeau were put on the table. I think when they lost Gaudreau and they were in danger of losing (Matthew) Tkachuk, they were sitting there and they were saying, ‘What are we going to be? Where are we going here?’ I think their attitude was, ‘If we can find good players, we’ll try to run it back with the rest of our group’ and all of a sudden, two really good players got thrown at them. So I think that’s where it really ramped up for them — they started to believe, ‘You know what, we can still be very good.’
“Kadri said it, and I think it’s true, they were very aggressive. I think their offer, for a long time, was better than Colorado’s or the Islanders’ or anyone else’s out there. Colorado had a limit, and I think the Islanders eventually got closer to where the Flames were. I just got the sense that it took them longer to get to where Calgary was willing to go, and I think that played a factor. Ultimately, I think the Islanders couldn’t clear the room.”
While it’s already been a wild enough summer for GM Brad Treliving and his Flames, Friedman noted that more moves could be coming for the Alberta club — and that they were in on Kadri’s former teammate, Phil Kessel, before the winger signed in Vegas this week.
“I don’t think they’re done, either. I think they’re going to add another forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve sniffed around on Evan Rodrigues,” he said. “I think Calgary was interested in Kessel, I do think there was legitimate interest from the Flames to bring them in. I’m wondering if the Flames zero in on Evan Rodrigues now.”
A PATRICK KANE TRADE COULD BE COMING, BUT NOT JUST YET
Elsewhere in Alberta, the talk has focused on Chicago winger Patrick Kane, who finds himself a star player on a team leaning heavily into rebuild mode. Amid plenty of chatter that the Oilers are looking to bring in Kane to beef up the talent on their wings, it seems there’s some truth to the rumours, but a deal might not be imminent.
“There’s been a lot of talk about whether or not they’re going to make a run at Patrick Kane. I think it’s legitimate that they’d like to. I don’t have any reason to believe that this talk is hot air,” Friedman said of the Oilers rumours. “What do the Blackhawks want to do and what does Patrick Kane want to do? First of all, is Chicago ready to do it? They’ve been adamant that they’re not going to Kane or (Jonathan) Toews or (Seth) Jones unless those players come to them. … What makes more sense for Patrick Kane, picking somewhere now or waiting during the season to see who’s good?
“I think that’s one of the things that’s kind of been discussed here, by both the team and the player — do we do it now, or do we wait to see who’s good? And I think Option B might be the preferred option.”
The key issue for any club hoping to acquire the three-time Stanley Cup champion will be fitting in his salary, as Kane has one more year at $10.5 million before he becomes a UFA. That will of course be an issue for the Oilers, who already have McDavid at an even higher number on their books.
The solution, according to Friedman, could be a deal involving multiple teams.
“Not only the Oilers but I think other teams who have been looking into Kane have been looking at double-retention situations,” Friedman said. Such a situation would involve Kane being dealt to one team and then dealt again to his eventual landing spot, with both Chicago and that first team retaining salary, cutting that number down to something more manageable.
As the Oilers continue to look for ways to add to their group after their most promising playoff run in a decade-and-a-half, Freidman reports GM Ken Holland has been looking for blue-line upgrades, too
“Before he ended up in Anaheim, I do think they were looking at (John) Klingberg,” Friedman said. “I do think they were trying to do something with another team, potentially Montreal, where Klingberg would sign there and maybe get traded to Edmonton. Montreal would take a bit [of the salary], and the Oilers would do a sweetener, and maybe they’d have to move a player too. I do think that was talked about.”